GreenSpace: A mecca for recyclers

Center near Pottstown accepts plenty you can't leave curbside.

Posted: July 14, 2008

Their lives are forever changed.

Once people find out about Jim Crater's place near Pottstown - and who could even imagine a spread as wild as this two-acre warren of sheds and bins and piles of stuff, stuff, stuff - they're hooked.

They become zealots and plastics hoarders and, in some cases, distressing to their spouses.

They begin to recycle everything.

Not just newspapers, cans, bottles and jugs, the staples of most recycling programs.

Here at Crater's nonprofit Recycling Services Inc., at the end of Elm Street across the Schuylkill from Pottstown, they find resting places for nearly 50 different items.

For avid recyclers, this is mecca.

Where else could you find one-stop dropping for Tyvek envelopes, wine corks, fishing line, CDs, silverware, half-melted candles, vegetable oil, working and nonworking telephones, three different kinds of batteries, and coat hangers?

And every kind of plastic - not just the ones and twos most facilities accept, but all the way up to seven. (And, yes, the people who come here are fully fluent in the intricate plastics numbering system.)

People get ecstatic about this. "They even take stuff that crinkles!" one regular gushes. (That would be No. 6 plastic, which includes cookie trays and the lids from fast-food drinks.)

This is what radical recycling looks like:

On a Saturday morning, 27 cars have pulled up outside.

The place is only open Tuesday and Saturday mornings, and on an average day, 150 to 200 cars come through.

People are filling carts from their trunks and headed through the gate, where they pay to recycle - $8 a visit.

Marleise Beach has just opened the rear hatch to her Honda Pilot. The innards are full nearly to the roof with bags and boxes of things that four families have been collecting for several months.

Caleb Benjamin is with her, and it was all his idea. He found Crater's place last year and, like so many, knew he had to come back.

But he lives in Philadelphia, and acknowledges that it was "stupid to drive 40 miles with a box." (Although what's really stupid, he adds, is that no place closer does the same thing.)

Benjamin e-mailed some friends. They collect and collect, and when they get enough, one of them makes the trek.

Benjamin and Beach begin to unload. A bag of plastic cups. Two bags of aluminum foil. Metal bottle and jar lids. Plastic lids. A bin of assorted electrical components.

There's a final bit of sorting to do, such as the toothbrush package, which they decide is a No. 3 plastic. The yogurt containers are fives.

"This is the crazy part," Beach says with a smile, heading off with the cart toward the prime plastics area.

She passes a stack of old chairs, piles of flower pots, a shed with used books and purses, a dizzying hodgepodge of bric-a-brac. "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson" on the radio drifts over the din of conversation - "Which bin do I put this in?" "Which plastic is this?" - before the items are dumped.

There's gridlock among the carts. People move aside so a forklift can come through.

I've heard the mood is often jubilant, but on this hot day, with rain threatening, it's mainly intense.

And, true, it doesn't seem like that much fun. It's more in the realm of "satisfying."

"We're such a wasteful society," Beach laments. This kind of recycling "is a decision you make."

A kid with a T-shirt that has a picture of a footprint and the words "Leave a good impression" dumps another load of plastics.

Ron Celentano, a solar consultant from Wyndmoor, is breezing through on his once-every-three-months visit.

"I pile up so much plastic because no one takes all the numbers," he says later. "The problem for me is once I know there's an avenue for stuff like this, I can't help but be a victim. It's good and bad. It's crazy."

I thought I was already doing pretty well, reducing at the store, reusing at home, and recycling curbside.

But now I have about six old shopping bags in my basement hanging from nails, each labeled for a different kind of recyclable.

They're not exactly filling fast. How much space, after all, can metal bottle caps take up? But gosh, now that I've been to Crater's, I can't just throw this stuff out.


Contact staff writer Sandy Bauers at 215-854-5147 or sbauers@phillynews.com. To post a comment, visit her blog at http://go.philly.com/greenspace.

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